Espionage has been a glorified field of work for both Hollywood and Bollywood. Bollywood has not even scratched the surface of the potential that a good Spy thriller has. More often than not, it ends up ornamenting the screenplay with jingoism and xenophobic characters who are too unreal and often too brash to be taking the mantle of a spy. A certain Khan’s Tiger is so cocksure that he defies the very fundamentals on which espionage works. Anyway, we still have few terrifically made spy thrillers from Bollywood, Madras Café and D Day being the shining beacons in this highly unsaturated genre.
The common thread which seems to exist in most Bollywood spy movies is the one dimensional Pakistani angle to the events. What works best for Raazi is that it is not another chest-thumping spectacle of Indian brawn, but it is a story of a girl who finds herself embroiled in the war between two countries and trying to extract information from the den of the enemies. The Pakistani side of the story is shown with refined sensibilities. In fact, the entire movie is focussed on the story unfolding in Pakistan and how our protagonist tries to defy the rancour and make her place in the family of a Brigadier and silently go about the grander scheme of trying to find information about the Pakistani military’s next steps against her ‘Watan’. The movie works because the director, Meghna Gulzar, is clear about the her vision for the movie. She steers clear of making it a muscle flexing superhuman-like story of a devil-may-care spy and focusses on the self-realisation and coming of age of a girl who has been dropped right in the middle of an international conflict with death looming large and her veil waiting to be exposed any second.
Alia Bhatt plays the simpleton with the ease of a seasoned actor. Her transition to a spy is slightly hastened, yet she manages to hold her own in a story revolving around an ‘enemy family’. She does not let the audience’s attention waver, with her vulnerability on screen coupled with her steely resolve that whatever she is doing is for her country. The director succeeds in keeping the pulsating pace constant throughout the movie, however, the story has few glaring loopholes which cannot be ignored. Had it been a masala entertainer spy movie like any other, we would have overlooked any shortcomings, but the effort put in making the story believable makes us question the ease with which Alia’s character Sehmat gets her work done without anyone even having an iota of doubt. The one person, servant Abdul, who doubts her intentions, is calmly removed without much sweat.
Vicky Kaushal as Sehmat’s husband and a Pakistani Armyman is restraint and righteous and a true servant of the nation. The director spends decent time in establishing the humane nature of the Syed Family. This is important for the audience as we understand that whatever their actions be, it is only because they love their country equally. This may be the first movie where we see the Pakistani side of the story without painting them as blood thirsty and trigger-happy marauders. A very welcome change indeed, considering that the general public from both sides acknowledge and love each other’s cultures and talent and it is only the ones with gun and in powerful seats who try to present a morphed image.
The screenplay is fluid, although it has a lot of unanswered questions. The Director needs to be commended for making such a story without the slightest inclination towards glorifying killing or including mindless action just for the sake of it. Raazi uses the tension during the 1971 war between the neighbouring countries to weave a tale of a girl who takes on her family work of espionage. It is a period which shaped history and so the movie seems to be building towards something really epoch making. Although the script keeps itself confined to the Syed family and the new bride who enters their home, it is the events which takes place behind the scenes which gives the movie the thrill and tension which it needs.